The art of the ream-wrapper

Today I was introduced to a book-related art that I didn’t know existed: decoration printed on the wrappers that were folded around reams of paper, some of which go back over three hundred years. Reams produced in paper mills consisted of 500 sheets (twenty quires of 25 paper sheets), which made a bulky pile with the thick paper of the old days (see the bundles in Pics 1 and 3). Proper packaging was required to transport this lot. What’s so great about these wrappers is that in spite of their shared endgame - the waste bin - they are adorned with great decoration, often in bright colours and attractive designs. They are extremely rare, of course, but this sample reflects their beauty well. Two items above are particularly special in that the wrappers are unopened: they still hold the original paper payload. One dates from c. 1850 (Pic 4), the other was one of nineteen reams found frozen in Shackleton’s cabin in the Arctic (Pic 5). The other that jumps out is a 17th-century wrapper that was recycled and used in a bookbinding (Pic 2). This beautiful stowaway still holds a pile of paper together, albeit that the sheets have turned into a book. To do for an eternity what was meant to be a short-term job. How satisfying is that?

More information - Read more about ream wrappers here, here and in this blog (the sources of pics 1, 3, 6-10). The wrapper used as binding fragment is found here (via @suz_paul). The ream of paper from c. 1850 (Pic 4) is discussed here. The reams found in the Antarctic (Pic 5) are discussed here.